Haven started up last year with, as they describe it, "two guys running the business out of a cramped clearing in the back of the warehouse" picking up whatever was left of Cold Cut. They claim that they've tripled their inventory, warehouse space and staff in the first nine months. And while that's normally not hard to do, given the small size they started at, it should be remembered what sort of economic pressures the entire country has been under during that time, and how difficult it's been for companies to secure loans. That suggests that they're doing pretty well, and have a good game plan.
Not being a retailer myself, I obviously don't have any first-hand knowledge of their ordering and fulfillment processes. But here's an anecdote from their December newsletter...
A guy called last week and said he wanted some Lazerman comics. He was a brand new customer who had not ordered from Cold Cut, so I had to set him up new.It at least sounds like great customer service which isn't what I often hear about Diamond. (Again, not being a retailer, I can't say first-hand, however.)
I took his order on the spot over the phone. Next time he'll be able to browse our web cart if he wants because I gave him an online account while I was at it.
The entire process from calling me cold with no account to having an order completed took about 15 minutes. It would have been 10 but he had to pause a couple times while customers came to him.
No credit check. No paperwork. No hassle. Honest.
The other thing I checked, which strikes me as kind of important, is inventory. Obviously, they're not going to be able to carry the latest issues of Amazing Spider-Man and Justice League of America but do they have anything someone would be likely to order? I don't have access to their full list, of course, but some cursory investigation shows that they carry the likes of Atomic Robo, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century, Cerebus, Templar, Arizona, Love and Capes, and scores of other titles I recognized and/or have an interest in. Plus I don't know how many titles I didn't recognize, but was familiar with the publisher. Not to mention however many others whose publishers I even didn't recognize. There was a pretty decent list of books from the looks of it.
I don't think Haven has any delusions of usurping Diamond. With the big comic publishers contractually out of reach, Haven is limited to a small subset of the comic market. Yes, contracts expire and there's technically a chance Haven could offer a better plan, but realistically Diamond would have to REALLY screw up and not offer any better incentives to lose their biggest customers. Diamond is also likely to generally do better on price, since they have deeper pockets by their sheer size and are likely better able to work quantity discounts. Haven definitely does have an advantage over the really small-run comics that Diamond refuses to distribute, but that can't be an especially profitable segment -- certainly not profitable enough to rest an entire business model on.
So what chance does Haven have?
Well, I clearly don't know nearly enough about their business operations and/or finances to say with any degree of certainty. But it seems like they're aiming at providing quality customer service for the independent comic market. If they can win the trust of enough retailers, they might do quite well for themselves. Of course, they do have external factors -- namely, the overall economy -- working against them, but from what I've seen so far, it looks like they're working with retailers one-on-one to help them improve their own businesses. It's generally not the type of business model that will make them rich overnight, but if they can continue to do well in these first few years, I wouldn't be surprised if Haven became a name you might recognize more readily in the not-too-distant future.
(Hat tip to Comic Related for reminding me that Haven's been out there for a year now! How time flies!)